Social networks change the online retail game

December 16, 2008, 02:44 PM — Volusion

The rapid growth of online shopping has drawn many small businesses to create an online platform in the past few years. The amount of revenue for online retail continues to grow, and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook continue to gain popularity and diversity in their use. Social networks have become more than just social with an increasing amount of revenue potential.

When shopping online, consumers want products from retail sites they can trust. Social networks bring new elements into the online shopping experience and are potential springboards for lead generation and added revenue, allowing businesses the ability to place products in front of thousands of potential customers in a familiar and easily accessible environment. Social networks have the ability to reach large and targeted audiences, the customizable and user-friendly interface of the social networking platform introduces them as an ideal platform to reach a large audience and expand your business presence in an interactive environment.

There are several resources that are available for a retail site to create and design its MySpace or Facebook business profile. The page should have a regular flow of current and useful information, with personality that matches the business and its consumers. Posting MySpace bulletins and Facebook notes is an ideal way to spread the message about new product offerings and special deals.

Music bands have offered up an interesting case study for the opportunities within social networks, marketing their music online and creating groups of interest. It is estimated that more than five million bands are now using Myspace as a tool for exposure. If these bands decide to take the next step to use social networks as a retail platform for their fan base, they can realize significant gains. Fashion sites (like Ed Hardy) are copying this model and beginning to utilize MySpace as a means to market to their target audiences.

Social platform tools are now available, allowing retail sites to easily add products from their online stores directly onto their social profiles, giving their customers the ability to check out securely from that merchant's online storefront.

Keep in mind the following items to get your social store going:

Website design. Site usability and quality of the customer's overall experience are key factors in gaining customer loyalty when online shopping.

Become active in the space most fitting for your target audience. There are a lot of social networking sites out there, but there is no need to dilute your efforts by attempting to use every single one. Instead, research the user volume and demographics for different social networking sites, and seek out niche sites that appeal to your target audience. Concentrating on the most relevant platforms will enable you to engage with the most targeted group of consumers.

Utilize the unique features of social networks. 'Email a friend', wish list, comments/customer reviews and affiliate marketing tools can help to socially spread the word about a store's products and services. These features prompt conversations about your business, get the word out about your products and add touchpoints, all of which can help strengthen your brand and enhance loyalty.

Network on a personal level. Part of the appeal of social networking is that it significantly decreases the disconnect that historically existed between online businesses and online consumers. Whereas consumers used to deal with passive websites when making online purchases, today they can interact with real company representatives, form relationships and, afterward, talk about the business with peers online. The possibility of human interaction makes online shopping attractive to a wider audience than ever. Harness the potential of social networking by revealing the personality behind your company, and consumers will be more at ease with you, your messages and your business.

Contribute more to the community than product pitches. Focusing too heavily on self-promotion is one way businesses limit the potential of social media involvement. Social networking websites are not intended to be free billboards for corporate advertisements, but rather a means to connect people who have something in common. While social media can certainly be a suitable platform to announce specials and news related to your business, constantly pitching your own products while providing no added value is one way to lose reader interest fast. We are all bombarded with advertising on a daily basis, and consequently many consumers (especially online) are resistant to pay attention to yet another unsolicited message. Instead, keep the members of your target market engaged by sharing resources they want, even if it is a relevant article, video or news piece that is not about your business! Providing resources that are truly valuable to members of your network will keep them coming back to check out your profile. Use this technique to effectively build interest in what you have to say, and your intermittent marketing messages will have a greater impact.

Listen. All businesses want to get their messages out to consumers, but a one-way avenue of communication is not networking. Businesses which leverage social media to connect with consumers have much to gain from the opportunity to elicit feedback from the most vocal (and therefore influential) members of their target markets. By fostering genuine communication, you can gain valuable insight about what is working well for your business and uncover shortfalls that may be hindering it. Feedback from real customers is invaluable information that gives you the opportunity to continually improve, and that is one benefit of social media that can bring your business immeasurable long term success.

It is important for merchants to be creative and open to new opportunities when introducing their products to customers. When entering the social networking world, a business is among thousands of potential leads all with the same vehicle for giving and acquiring information. Be honest, be personal, be a friend and in return, your new friends may become your lifelong customers.

» posted by Volusion via IT World

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